Crime in Fort Worth: Releasing videos, department diversity

Part 5 of a series on Crime in Fort Worth

FWBP: There’s some buzz – no clear information – that because of the social media climate some police officers are somewhat reluctant to engage for fear of bad consequences to them. Do you detect any of that among our officers?

Noakes:  I think officers are cautious, they’re very cautious. Not that they weren’t before, but unfortunately it adds another layer of stress. Another something to think about. What I hope it doesn’t do is ever cause an officer to hesitate when they need to act.

When we have the time, we’ll take time to get things done to make sure it’s done safely. Sometimes an officer has to act in an instant, in a fraction of a second make a decision. I just hope that the narrative, the police that’s out there, the fear that they’re going to be crucified, and forgive me, the media when something happens.

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I hope that doesn’t cause them to hesitate. Looking at the amazing work I’m seeing officers do every day, if that is an issue, it’s not something across the board that’s keeping officers from getting a job done because we talked a little bit earlier, the I-35 incident. About the cold weather, the things officers were dealing with.

Even when we were telling other people to stay home because it wasn’t safe, they were still coming to work, still coming in like we asked them too and still getting the job done.

FWBP: In a recent officer-involved shooting, you released videos of the incident quickly. What is your commitment on releasing those  videos?

Noakes: As far as our policy, we want to do it within three days, no more than five days, but within three days is the target. When we can do it sooner, we actually want to do it even sooner than that. Our main thing is we don’t want to do anything to damage the integrity of any investigation.

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What we do want to do is be transparent about what happened in the incident. It used to be where we would say, “Well, our investigations done, we’ll talk to you. No comment.” Those investigations can take six months and that’s too long. Especially now with social media and we have armies of citizen journalists out there. Everyone with a phone is a journalist now, and they have their own narrative, sometimes their own agenda. God bless them, they’re doing their best I guess.

But the point is, if we don’t contribute to the narrative, the narrative will take on a life of its own and we’ll be devoured by that narrative.

Whether good or bad, whatever the video shows, we need to get it out, we need to be transparent with the public and then we listen for what the public has to say about it. It’s got to be a two way flow of information so we can hear what the public’s concerns are and maybe we can all find ways to get things done better together.

FWBP: How’re your relations with the Fort Worth Police Officers Association these days?

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Noakes: We’re doing well. Manny Ramirez is the president. He and I talked two days ago about some things. We’ll frequently touch base about some things, we’re not going to agree on everything but no two people ever do. Oftentimes we find where we do agree, and are able to come to some compromise, even if we don’t agree we always agree to respectfully disagree, but keep coming back to the table on every issue we need to.

We have the Police Officers Association. We have the Black Police Officers Association and a Latin Police Officers Association. I’m members of all three, they’re all really good organizations, do some great things.

The POA obviously it’s been in place for longer, the other two came on several years ago and just had some new leadership elected in the Black POA and went to one of their meetings, talked with them. Deputy City Manager Jay Chapa came along. Our diversity and inclusion director Christina Burkes was there as well. We’re having great conversations with all the associations, I think we all get along.

Again, regardless of whether we agree on every single item, which again, no one ever does, we work really hard to make sure we maintain that relationship where we’re able to discuss respectfully all the issues.

FWBP: How is diversity in the department as a general rule?

Noakes: It’s not where we want it to be. We want it to be more reflective of the community we serve. The great news is we’re actually tracking to be able to do just that in the near future. Assistant Chief Julie Swearingin put an initiative in place recently called Be The Change. It is all about not just sending out flyers, not just sending things out on social media, but actually intentionally, very intentionally, connecting with people who apply.

First recruiting them to apply, tell them why, “Be the change. You want to see a change in your neighborhood? You want to see a change in policing? The best way to do it is by joining us. Be a part of the change.”

Then she actually helps them along. Maybe she needs some help studying for the written exam. Maybe they need some help getting through the physical assessment. She’ll come in on her own time and help people to train them, see what their deficiencies are maybe in the physical assessment. Make sure they’re prepared to pass that so they’re successful. It’s not just about recruiting and getting someone to sign up and take the test, sometimes those people don’t show up to take it. She makes sure they sign up, makes sure they show up, make sure they’re prepared, does everything she can to not just get them in the door but make sure they’re able to walk out that door as a police officer, out of the academy down the road.

From the last test we took, and we actually changed some of our testing as well. Most of the testing was just based on IQ and you have to be of a certain IQ, you have to be of a certain intelligence level to be able to do the job. But what’s really, really important to the Fort Worth Police Department is the integrity of the people we’re hiring. IQ is great but what about EQ, that emotional intelligence? We need people who will not only be smart enough to do the job here, but their hearts in the right place to do the job as well. The testing mechanism we have now actually weights the integrity side even more so than the IQ side.

I believe we’re going to be seeing more quality candidates. We have some amazing people right now in the Fort Worth Police Department that do great stuff every single day they’re out there. We want to bring in the best people we possibly can to compliment what we already have and make sure we have the leaders we need down the road. I think we’re bringing in better people already because of that testing.

We’re doing some different things at the academy, a little less militaristic to let people be a little more open about asking questions and being able to learn. Not just be told what to do, but to learn while they’re here. Because of some of these changes have been made by Assistant Chief Swearingin and some of her staff, there’s a really good possibility, I may be getting ahead of myself because we’re early in the process, that at least in my 21 years with the department, and I think much further back than that, we’re on track to have the most diverse class of recruits we’ve ever had.

That’s what’s going to change to where we do more accurately reflect the citizens that we serve.

Next in the series Wednesday.

Crime in Fort Worth: Police morale, education, training and public misconceptions